WoMars Mission Plan at MDRS
Nerio I has been the WoMars very first space analog mission under Mars-like conditions. The mission has taken place at the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS), Utah, USA. Being one of the very few all-female MDRS crews, WoMars believes this has been a great opportunity to study the scientific, social, and medical performances of our team. In addition, each of us has conducted innovative scientific research related to our field of expertise and our role as crew members at the MDRS.
There are four main research projects that WoMars has carried out at the MDRS:
A New Deep Space Communication Tool For Astronauts
WoMars made the decision that their analog mission will adopt a ‘high fidelity to Martian conditions’ approach during their MDRS mission. This means that, except for any emergency situations, all communication between the habitat and “Earth” has been subjected to a 5 minute one way time delay. In particular the crew has compared the effectiveness of two communication tools that are designed for use in high latency situations. One of these tools, Latency Governed Messaging (LGM), is similar to the tool that has been adopted in previous similar research experiments in other analogs that have operated under time delay. The other, Space Braiding, is a novel tool also designed specifically for high latency environments. Space Braiding brings structure and space to conversations by organising them into braids. The braids rotate on a carousel allowing each person to engage with the braids in sequence, with time to read, think and respond. The technology makes it feel to participants at either end that they are in a normal, synchronous, conversation. Both LGM and Space Braiding have been designed and developed by Braided Communications Ltd.
Before coming to the MDRS, each crew member had to choose two friends or family members with whom they would like to communicate during the mission and thus, test LGM and Braided communication tools. So that, at the end of the Nerio I mission, all crew members would have communicated with two loved ones using both software tools.
The main objective of this research project has been to compare both software tools and provide feedback to Braided Communications Ltd. once the Nerio I mission. This feedback is crucial for Braided to help develop the Braided communication tool for future space missions.
Visual odometry to determine the position of a robot in other planets
In areas like Mars, where there is no GPS system, or any satellite network developed yet, it is difficult to specify a coordinate system or to move a drone or ground robot to a specific location. Lazarus is a device that enables autonomous drone flights or ground robot missions in environments with no satellite network. This technology has been developed by Dronomy, a spin-off company based in Madrid, Spain.
Lazarus uses state-of-the-art image processing and sensor fusion, combining visual and inertial information for accurate localization. Lazarus is able to read a mission planned by a user, estimate its position in space and based on it, provide the drone or ground robot with the necessary commands to carry out the mission.
Before coming to the MDRS, Lazarus was installed in a robot. During the Nerio I mission, the robot has been tested in many different areas – starting from the Hab’s tunnels and continuing in Zubrin’s Head, Kissing Camel, Phobos Peak and the MDRS Ridge.
The results are helping Dronomy prove Lazarus’ innovative technology in a Mars-like landscape. The data has also helped understand if the algorithm accumulates any drift and will help develop Lazarus for future missions.
Gender and Crew Domination in MDRS isolation research
The psychological impact that astronauts undergo during space missions is a great concern for researchers. The fact that WoMars is an all-female crew, opens a very interesting line of investigation, as it rules out the gender influence and crew domination in mixed groups. This gives the perfect scenario to understand how women interact and collaborate without the presence of men.
WoMars has collaborated with Dr. Inga Popovaite, sociology researcher at Kaunas University of Technology, Lithuania. During the Nerio I mission, all crew members have been writing a diary every night before going to sleep where they explained the most positive and negative experiences during the day. Writing down in these stressful situations has helped the crew to focus, calm down and maintain a healthier environment.
Once back on Earth, the diaries will be analysed and the crew will be interviewed by Dr. Popovaite. The results of this research will help understand the management of emotions in small groups under an isolated confined environment.
Applications and Benefits of Augmented Reality (AR) for Training and Maintenance of a Human Settlement on Mars
The aim of this project is to identify areas where AR could be beneficial, including routinary tasks, maintenance and repair activities. For that, WoMars will record every task performed during the Nerio I mission, and will classify the tasks according to their repetitiveness and degree of difficulty. Then, WoMars will assess the possible benefits of AR as reduction in time or difficulty.
During the first week, the crew did a literature review of previous work on AR applications in space settlements as background for the study. Moreover, the crew started listing possible applications identified in their daily activities and classifying them.
In the second week, the crew will continue identifying potential tasks that could be assisted with AR and the possible benefits as well as other applications for research stations and education activities.
WoMars will start summarising the findings after the mission and the aim to design the structure of an AR tool that could address some of the identified applications. Ultimately, WoMars plans to develop a prototype to test its benefits in future analog missions.